10 tips for skating training

21. November 2023

Foto: zvg Fischer

Even at the start of the cross-country ski season, a clever mix of different training sessions makes all the difference. 10 tips on how to efficiently plan your cross-country ski training.

Are you often overtaken by other skiers even though they seem to have less arm strength and general fitness? Or do you have to grab that oxygen mask out of your backpack after just a small ascent? Then it’s high time to stop just ploughing along the trail in one go and start training with your head instead. The best tips:

1. Glide, glide, glide

A simple, but important fact: snow is smooth and slippery, but a cross-country ski trail is never completely flat.  Which means: balance decides whether you can glide on one ski for a long time after the kick-off or whether you tip back onto the other ski quickly and unsteadily.

Simple gliding exercises should therefore be built into cross-country skiing training throughout the season, for example:

  • Skating without poles: Make sure that after the leg kick, the opposite arm moves forward towards the tip of the gliding ski and that the upper body is still upright and not bent over. 
  • Two pole thrusts for one leg kick: Make sure that you glide well on one ski.  Only then switch to the other side.
  • Skate with poles horizontally outstretched in front of the body: upper body remains calm, always keep poles at a right angle to the upper body.

2. Control basic intensity

Many amateur skiers automatically skate at a high intensity and with a high heart rate while training; on top of that, most of the trails are at high altitudes which places special demands on the cardiovascular system.  It is therefore worth checking the intensity level during moderate continuous training using a heart rate monitor and, for example, to do a workout in which the heart rate does not exceed around 80% of the maximum heart rate.

3. Adding intervals

While focussing on the basics is useful, it’s just as important to step on the gas from time to time and skate fast. The easiest way to raise your heart rate is to skate by doing fartleks or intervals at altitude. Set yourself a goal (e.g. end of a climb or a tree, a post or a board), up to which you keep the pace as high as possible. After that, keep skating at a slower pace until your heart rate has recovered. 

4. Alternate stride styles in training

Experienced cross-country skiers can be recognised by the fact that they are able to alternate the stride patterns smoothly according to the terrain and are not constantly in the same mode (usually V1 stride with poles on the same side). 

  • V1 symmetrical stride: One pole thrust for two ski glides – the skating classic. Suitable for flat terrain or slightly downhill. The poles can be used on the right or left leg push-offs. Important: Do not only practice the ”good side”, but change sides regularly!
  • V1 asymmetrical stride: Best on difficult and/or steep terrain. One arm is the guide arm, which reaches further forward. On a camber, the guide arm is used on the uphill side. Important: Do not always use the same guide arm, but alternate. And don’t bend the upper body too far forward.
  • V2 stride: The 3rd gear! Poles are used with each kick. V2 is used in slightly ascending terrain. Due to the high pole cadence you are skating with a lot of arm power. To skate V2, you need to be able to balance on one ski (glide on one leg).

5. Alternative training

Only a fraction of amateur cross-country skiers live directly in a cross-country skiing area. This means that realistically most of them do not spend more than 10-20 days of cross-country skiing on snow per year: However, snowless training can be specifically adapted to cross-country skiing requirements in winter. For example, running uphill with poles, swimming (arm pulling), or a specific strength circuit at the gym with the emphasis on shoulders/arms and torso/legs.



Foto: iStock.com/michelangeloop

6. Training awareness

Observe your own technique: How stretched are your arms, how bent is your upper body, how long do you glide for? Feel which terrain is most difficult for you and focus on that.

7. Work on weaknesses

Concentrate only on your weaknesses during individual training sessions. Do you always ski with the same leading hand and pole placement on the same side? Then try to use your other hand or ski with only one pole. Do you quickly lose your balance when you take a V2 stride?  Then break down the V2 stride into single elements (skating without poles, two pole thrusts for one leg kick) and practice them separately.

8. Optimise equipment

Good equipment not only results in more speed when cross-country skiing, but it is simply more fun. Anyone who has been using the same skis for several years should therefore perhaps rent a new model and then decide whether to stay with the tried-and-tested equipment or invest in new skis.

9. Practice downhill skiing

A stable stance on cross-country skis is first and foremost to prevent falls. Find a downhill section and practice downhill skiing in a targeted manner.

  • Plough: Practice controlled ploughing just like skiing. Keep legs slightly bent, the arms loosely angled next to the body. Angle the tips of the skis inwards towards each other (about 15-20 cm safety distance), knees are also tilted inwards so that the inner edges of the skis grip the snow.
  • Plough turn: Also practice plough turning, i.e. turning in the plough by shifting the weight to the ski outside the curve.
  • One-legged plough: When descending down a track, the one-legged plough is the best braking technique. One ski stays in the track, the other is placed diagonally next to the track with the ski tip pointing inwards into the snow.
  • Upright downhill position: If you like to go a bit faster and have enough self-confidence, you can go down in the track without braking.  It is important to have a relaxed but stable position in the knees with the body's centre of gravity over the feet. Avoid moving forwards and backwards too much. 

10. Don’t forget to eat and drink

Cross-country skiing is a moderate sport, so an exhaustive workout can last two to three hours. Remember to carry liquid and food with you during long training sessions or to plan a stop at a restaurant. And for all competitors: Practice eating on-the-move from time to time and eat a bar while skating (without hitting another cross-country skier!)